Sunday, May 11, 2014

Kat's Korner: Tori Climbs The Mountain In Stiletto Heels

Kat:  Tori Amos.  It's not a 'brand' or anything as crass.  No, Tori Amos?  Two words that conjure art.  A Joni Mitchell, a Van Morrison is as awe inspiring and inventive as a van Gogh or an O'Keeffe. And Tori's on that plane.

Sure, she can write a hit and she can break it down and shake that ass while she pounds on the piano in concert -- or while she's got one hand on the piano and reaching out to the other side to also play an electronic keyboard with other hand.  But she's not a 'hitmaker' or 'bootyshaker.'  She's an artist.  Full on.

If you ever doubted that, you only had to listen to her album of covers, Strange Little Girls, and grasp how she made songs by others all her own, how she took something as sexist as Eminem's "97 Bonnie & Clyde" and brought the woman targeted alive, made her the focal point, made her blood and fire.

In the '00s, she did the heavy lifting while a lot of grunge and alternative boys did little more than feed the meters.  In the '10s, she's still creating on large canvases.

Tuesday, her latest album, her fourteenth studio album, Unrepentant Geraldines debuts, exhibits and stuns.

Track five, "Weatherman" is stunning in its starkness.  Her lead vocal, the piano, her multi-tracked supporting vocals.  It's the audio equivalent of Richard Long's Small White Pebble Circles and I can't think of one of her musical contemporaries who would attempt this, let alone be able to pull it off.

"16 Shades of Blue," she notes, was inspired by the work of Paul Cezanne.  I can see that but the song also reminds me of the work of Vic Delnore.  Tori's working with all these colors which grab you and lead you to this area and that -- colors that astound and vibrate to the same degree that Tori's last notes in the song do.

"Giant's Rolling Pin" is a song with a great deal on its mind and a skipping melody that allows Tori's singing to hit various rich colors, almost acrylic, in fact.

Beth and Marlene's pies
with help from Caroline
after just one slice
you can uncover any lie
that's why the NSA
and now the FBI
want to be the ones who control
Beth and Marlene's pies
with help from Caroline
so basically that's why

Applause to Tori (who also tackles the tax industry in this song) for showing the spine that Bruce Springsteen put into storage several years ago.  But applause especially for those vocal colors which recall the paintings of Christine Reimer.

Tori is a musical giant.

She is art personified.

As a woman, she's never gotten the promotional push that male artists do.

So let's compare her to a legend, okay?

What is Bruce Springsteen doing?

Can anyone figure it out?

It's as though the muse is gone.  He's really not managed anything sexy in years (for me, you have to go back to "Drive All Night") and, other than The Rising, has he done an album worth making since Tunnel of Love?  We treat him like he has and applaud bad covers of Pete Seeger and bad songs like "Outlaw Pete" -- substandard craft that doesn't rise to the level of art.

Tori spent her last albums exploring complex themes, stormy seacoasts, etchings, mood pieces and pen and paper sketches.  It was as brave an artistic journey as any US recording artist has taken since Joni Mitchell ended out the 70s pursuing her jazz and world music muses.

By contrast, Springsteen's been churning out near-yearly product for Columbia, product that was empty in spirit and in thought, but arranged and engineered with the clear intent to sell mass quantities.

How did that work out for him?

That's the unreported music story of the last years.

It didn't work out for him and his career is in the toilet.

It went there in 2009 when his awful Working on a Dream only managed to go gold in the US.  And that was his last almost-hit album.


No artist over 40 gets the build up from their label that Bruce does.  And he could only manage gold in 2009.  What's worse?

2010's Wrecking Ball and last January's High Hopes?  They couldn't even make it to gold.

2009's Greatest Hits also bombed as did 2013's Collection: 1973-2012.  Neither could make gold.

Last January's High Hopes was pure claptrap.  Even Bruce realized he'd pissed himself in public.  So last month he rushed out American Beauty -- an EP.  And what happened?  It's his lowest charting studio work in years (it only reached 31).

The awful High Hopes?

Do you remember the promotion on that?

They even tied it into a whole episode of The Good Wife, remember?  As well as twice an hour prime time advertisements for the episode and the music -- every day for 7 days on CBS.   NBC did a full hour tribute on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon and Bruce also got a half-hour documentary on HBO.  With all of that and lot more, the album couldn't even go gold.

Bruce, last week, was making nice with Barack who runs The Drone War, who (as Seymour Hersh has documented) lied about the gassing in Syria in an attempt to start a war and whose lies on Ukraine are outrageous.  But there was Bruce knocking boots with Barry, humiliating himself, whoring himself, reminding everyone that 'The Boss' only criticizes the government when a Republican's in the White House.

That's why he bombed in Dallas last month.  Oh, yeah the other thing the press has been sitting on.  At the end of March Madness, Dallas got three days and nights of free concerts.  And people turned out to see LL Cool Jay, Tim McGraw, The Killers, etc.  Bruce drew the least amount of people.

Bruce Springsteen giving a free concert couldn't pack 'em in.  A friend who covered the event tried to spin it. He said that it was raining.  He forgot and tried to spin it around C.I.  Never a smart move.  C.I., who wasn't at the festival and had never brought the concerts up to me, left the room -- her living room -- and came back a few minutes later with a large envelope.

She began pulling 8x10 photos out of the envelope.  "Here's fun.," she said pointing at about five photos, "see their crowd.  They had the worst rain.  They played on the same Sunday.  It was a huge downpour for them and at least two members caught a cold.  But they wrapped up their set and by the time Bruce came out an hour later, it was a light rain, look at these pictures.  Do you want me to show you photos for other acts on Sunday or should we go to Saturday's performances or Friday's?"

My friend said that wasn't necessary.  He said, yes, it was a light rain when Bruce started, the least rainfall of any act on that Sunday and that it cleared up as Bruce and his band played.  But, yes, as the photos showed, Bruce had the smallest audience of any name act.

At a free concert, he can't pack in a crowd?  And we're not talking the 'trendy' coast.  We're talking Dallas, Texas.  Where Heart could sell tickets even during the lean years when the coasts had written them off.

Those he hasn't run off with his political whoring, he's run off with his crass ways.  Bruce pulled one stunt in particular one too many times -- the I'm So Nice You Should Buy Me Twice stunt.  From my "2006 in music:"

2006 was the year of the gimmick. As 2005 drew to a close, everyone was including extras -- a bonus DVD here or outtakes there. Sales were continuing to slide and there were efforts to offer extras that would make people part with their hard earned cash. The extras really were useless and, in the end, it was the extras that killed We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions.
The collection was thirteen songs by Bruce and a bonus DVD on the flip side of the CD. But that was all offered well before summer of 2006 so, to push those Christmas sales, another track got added, "Bring 'Em Home." (Five tracks were added, but let's not pretend like anyone even noticed the other four -- "Bring 'Em Home" was the one pushed all summer with the promise of being on the 'expanded' edition.)
Now that's the sort of thing that really pisses me off. In 1983, I purchased the Pointer Sisters Break Out -- on cassette. Enjoyed the album. Enjoyed blasting it, dancing to it, singing along with it. Your eyes. Tell me that you. Want me. . . . Jump. Jump. For my love. The Pointer Sisters and Richard Perry had created a really strong dance album. The reward to the faithful who bought the album early was . . . "So Excited" being added a few months after the album was released. What? I'm supposed to buy the album twice?
It still ticks me off. Ask Rebecca, who also loves the Pointer Sisters, and she'll tell you it still ticks her off as well. So, on just that basis, adding a track to We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions in an attempt to get some people to buy the same album twice pisses me off.
But the track itself calls the whole collection into question. Why wasn't it included originally? It all feels like testing the waters, as though Springsteen saw that other artists were stepping up and decided Pete Seeger's song about troops being brought home needed to be on the collection. It did need to be. It needed to be from the start. You could argue it didn't fit the concept, you could argue that in the original release. But when Springsteen adds it, your left with the reality that it did fit the concept and the question of why it wasn't originally included?
Some may give the benefit of the doubt and assume that it just got overlooked. To me, it indicates that Springsteen saw other artists standing up and decided to join the crowd. So between that conclusion and the effort to take your money twice for the same collection, the album fell off my playlists. In its own way, the original set now seems as cautious as Justy Timberlake trying to act sexy while asking "Mommy, May I Pet With Danger?"

This might be a good time to talk Tori extras.

Unrepentant Geraldines is a 14-track album in the standard version.  iTunes version gives you a bonus track ("White Telephone to God"), Amazon download gives you the bonus track of "Dixie" and if you buy the Deluxe Edition of the CD, you get not only the bonus track "Forest of Glass" but also a DVD disc with photos from the album shoot, the trailer for the album, an interview with Tori and a tour of the recording studio.

Which version should you buy?

For me, deluxe isn't needed.  I bought the deluxe of Tori's Scarlet's Walk.  All it did was cause me a headache as someone stole parts of it from my apartment.  Repeatedly.  First to go were the little plastic snakes, then the seeds in the package, then . . .   Mine stayed in the box, with the map, because I never did anything but play the CD.  But friends were losing their various pieces and helping themselves to mine.  I got Barbra Streisand's The Movie Album (or whatever it was called -- it was a gift, I would never buy Barbra singing the maudlin "Smile") and it had a bonus disc.  Video!  I never watched it once.  That's true of one bonus after another.  I can't even remember what the bonus was on the 'deluxe edition' of Carly Simon's Moonlight Serenade was and I love Carly.

The only times I ever used a bonus?  Barbra's Love Is The Answer?  I didn't like the album as much as I did the bonus disc -- the same songs but with a jazz combo instead of an orchestra.  The only other time? Tori's Tales of a Librarian.  That hits collection had a DVD disc.  I watched her soundcheck performance of "A Northern Lad" on that DVD -- in part because the CD didn't include the song.  (Yes, I had it on From The Choirgirl Hotel, but I really thought it belonged on the hits collection -- and could have easily done without the remix of "Professional Widow.")

Maybe you're different and you need the stickers, trading cards, DVD and whatever else is in the boxed set? In addition to the above examples, I've never look at the stuff inside the boxed set of Ben Harper's Both Sides of the Gun.  I just want to hear the music.  So I don't need the deluxe.

Well what about the bonus songs?

What about 'em?

If I'm sharing about the album, I'm sharing about the album.  For the most part, I'm not really interested in songs that weren't judged worth putting on an album.  In all my years of music listening, there are only two times that I think big mistakes were made.  First, Fleetwood Mac's Rumours should have ditched "Oh, Daddy" and kept "Silver Springs."  Stevie's song was left off the album.  It became a huge hit 20 years later via a live version on The Dance.  I love Christine but "Oh, Daddy" is the worst song she's ever written that the Mac recorded.

The second time?  Carly Simon's Coming Around Again is ten classic tracks plus the awful Bryan Adams and Jim Vallance bathos entitled "It Should Have Been Me" -- possibly the worst song of 1988. On the flip side of Carly's 1988 hit single "Give Me All Night" is a song written by Carly and Don Sebesky, "Sleight of Hand."  That song belonged on the album not the usual crap Bryan Adams churns out.

Bonus songs don't usually make the album because they don't belong on it.

That's me.

You may be a completist collector who has to everything.  If so, go for it.

For me, it's about the shared experience, the shared statement that every listener can discuss and explore with other listeners.

we could be opening a doorway
globally, but that's okay
once upon a time you had faith
you would not be swayed
by fools untouched by clairvoyance
and you swore that we'd be brave
well not today
no not today

because we all lay down
to sleep through the now
and if we all lay down
she'll be waiting for us
where the rivers cross
once we wake from our rest

That's from "America," the first track on the album.

It's amazing.  And if you followed Tori on her journey, as she explored and followed her muse, you grasp how "America" results from that.   On the one hand, it sounds like a Tori song you've been longing for, on the other, it's a huge breakthrough whose simplicity could only result from Night of the Hunters and Abnormally Attracted to Sin.  Like 2001's Scarlet's Walk, this should be a strong and steady seller for Tori, an evergreen.  It's an album of beauty.  Those who couldn't take the journey, who couldn't follow "over silbury hill, through the solar field" (Tori's "1000 Oceans") will pick back up with Unrepentant Geraldines. They'll enjoy the hard fought simplicity that adds to the richness even though they may not grasp just how far Tori had to go for these songs.

While peers and legends cleaned out their trashcans and called the scraps "albums," Tori climbed icy mountains in stiletto heels.  What's she learned and what's she returned with is some of the richest and most satisfying music your ears will probably hear this year or next.

I hate you
I hate you
I do
I hate that
you're the one who can
make me feel gorgeous
with just just a flick of your finger
it is that easy

yes there was a time
you didn't always get your way
back there where my heart
was not so easy to invade
when my battlements were strong
before the pilgrims came
don't forget you were the one
who loved my wild way

"Wild Way" is probably going to be one of the most strongly embraced songs on the album -- on an album where the Tori faithful and the Tori casual come together to savor this musical feast.  Again, the album drops Tuesday.


Note: This is one of three album reviews Kat's offering this weekend.  Already up is "Kat's Korner: Livingston Taylor brings the songs to life"  and "Kat's Korner: Childhood Home is an adult classic."